Our trip along Route 66 was an eye opener, to be sure. As we traveled along the Mother Road on our journey’s second day, we crossed over the border and descended into a hazy Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is one of the largest and most preserved historic 66 towns along the way, with many neon signs and storefronts renovated to the glory days of the 50’s and 60’s, as well as murals tastefully decorating many of the buildings.
This metropolitan area boasts several tourist attractions, including Sandia Peak (where the view is said to extend over 1,000 miles), the Santa Fe Southern Railway (complete with a vintage train that offers scenic rides through the surrounding countryside), and Old Town, which is at the heart of Albuquerque’s heritage. History states that the first families settled near the banks of the Rio Grande River in 1706, and the town sprang up in concentric circles around this area. This area now is home to numerous art galleries, craft shops, a museum, and several restaurants; the breathtaking beauty of its southwestern-style architecture is worth the trip there.
It was interesting to note that the Rio Grande is a wide and muddy river here; as we were passing through the mountains in Colorado on our way out to Arizona, we came across the origins of the “Big River” in the Rio Grande National Forest; it is a merging of several raging snow-fed streams near the Continental Divide (which we did pass on the way to Albuquerque; it is now just a lonely outpost with a few Indian shops and a handpainted sign). Yet, in New Mexico, the Rio Grande seemed almost lazy, and very dirty; possibly due to the arid and dusty conditions around the area.
As we worked our way eastward after snapping numerous pics, we passed through Moriarty, Clines Corners, Santa Rosa, and Montoya, which is known for its old west cemetery and crumbling buildings; it was fascinating to look at the numerous 1800’s-era tombstones and wonder what life must have been like in those rowdy, gun-slinging days. Then, it was on to Tucumcari–home of the world famous Tee Pee Curios, the home of everything “Route 66” if you care to stop in and browse for a bit. Jeannie purchased a neat Route 66 tapestry canvas bag, gaily decorated with the towns and sites along the road. This neon-lit city beckons tourists to stay in their many renovated motels along the main strip after a long day’s journey.
At the border of New Mexico and Texas are the twin towns of Endee and Glenrio; long-forgotten ghost towns that spoke of the “boom and bust” cycle of Route 66; Glenrio once was described as a town of 84 people complete with a gas station and store. Now, all that remains are weather-worn, roofless monuments of its heyday.
The Lone Star State, Texas, was where we stopped for the evening. We made it as far as Amarillo, then woke up rested and refreshed to sunny skies and a brisk cowboy wind (15-20 mph) as we backtracked a few miles to the Cadillac Ranch, where ten lonely, stripped-out Cadillacs from various decades lie buried at an angle for tourists like us to gawk at…and, of course, to spray paint! After adorning these cars with several bible scriptures, we stopped to converse with several other Christian families on vacation; then, once again, we were off! After a quick exit in Conway to see the Cadillac Ranch’s little cousin (Bug Ranch, which is comprised of 5 Volkswagen Beetles buried in a similar fashion) we pushed on to Groom–home to the largest manmade cross in North America. Standing at 190 feet, it is visible miles before you get to town; and it has an amazing look at the stations of the Cross, along with a nice gift shop and fountain area. It’s well worth the trip, even though it is not an original Route 66 attraction.
And, before I forget: a person needs to take a few snapshots of the Groom, TX, water tower, which was intentionally built to lean; it’s a weird and even laughable sight as you drive by. I wondered what the people constructing it must have thought.
Donley County, Texas, can proudly boast of the fanciest, jaw-dropping rest area there is, complete with beautiful restrooms, playground areas for the kids, a manned tourist booth, a walkway featuring the ENTIRE Route 66 highway from start to finish…these were just a few of many amenities. Quite amazing, and a welcome sight after hours of driving.
Finally, as we headed out of Texas, we passed through Shamrock, coined from the town’s first postmaster, an Irish immigrant named George Nickle, in 1893. The Tower Station and U-Drop Inn are its most featured landmarks. Art deco in design, the Tower Restaurant was described as “having the swankiest eating place and the most up-to-date edifice of its kind on U.S. Highway 66 between Oklahoma City and Amarillo.” It is currently under renovation.
Next month, I’ll finish off the trip with thoughts on Oklahoma; Kansas, and back home to Missouri!
Richard is a regular monthly columnist for the Linn County Leader, and is also pastor at Bear Branch, Purdin, and Pleasant Grove UMC’s in north Missouri. You may reach him via his blog at https://sliceofhome.wordpress.com or e-mail at email@example.com.